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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



The Valley, Review: A suicide, a steep cliff, the sea and a gun

The Valley, Review: A suicide, a steep cliff, the sea and a gun

Silicon it is. And IT. The Valley story is told from the perspective of an Indian family. It is placed in the present, or the not too distant past. The Valley follows the slice of life, realistic style of narration and strikes a chord frequently. In English, it features Indian, Pakistani and American actors, with only one easily identifiable name that Indians will relate too. Yet, it is recommended viewing.

The film retraces events in the one year before real-time, in flashback, and amazingly, holds interest, even without songs or other familiar trappings. Take a peek into the life of an affluent, successful Indian American entrepreneur, Neal (don’t miss the spelling) Kumar, his wife Roopa, his daughters Monica and Maya, and a housekeeper, Didi (which means elder sister), who reside in the high-octane, technologically driven culture that is Silicon Valley.

His affluent life appears idyllic from the exterior. Devastated by his student daughter's Maya’s suicide, Neal seeks answers to lingering questions that rise around him and his family. He has developed technology termed Augur, which enhances human connectedness. After a presentation about Augur, he drives to a cliff, gets out of the car and looks down at the sea below. Then he pulls out a gun.

About the plot and issues in the film, writer-director Saila Kariat (I cannot confirm whether she is related to the Keralite genius, late Ramu Kariat) says, “I have witnessed the pressure that young people undergo to meet their parents’ expectations and its deleterious effects, particularly in the immigrant community. I have also seen mental health issues ignored because of the stigma and shame associated with them. My brother, a vibrant dynamic person, was struck down with schizophrenia in his late teens. His constant struggles are something I will never forget.”

This is Saila’s debut film. An Indian American, she reached the position of Development Manager at IBM. She had a family, and in pursuit of spending more time with family, started designing and building custom residential homes. Alongside, she completed a degree in film at San Jose State University, but it was not until last year that she got the opportunity to do what she wanted to do all along: make films. It’s an above average start.

For almost 75% of the movie, it takes you along on a voyage of personal discoveries, unveiled layer after later, in a credible manner. But things begin to go out of hand when Kariat brings in some curvaceous but unnecessary swimming and a boxful of belongings that are despatched to the Kumar household from their daughter’s school. A predictable, though sneaked-on, extra-marital fling creeps in towards the end, and all but muddles the clarity. The end might appear to give closure to the case, yet it will most likely come out as a ‘pushed’ one to some viewers.

As a Silicon Valley-ite and home-maker herself, Saila reproduces an ambience that never appears make-believe. Even the fact that the Indian family always talks in English—and that includes their maid/housekeeper—sinks in naturally. Usage of the four-letter word is kept

within limits. The gun shop scene, not vital to the plot, adds some clever comment on the gun culture in the States. Of the two generations, the older one expresses feelings with little or no animation, facial or bodily. Rightly so, the younger characters speak in the stylised, animated, sing-song diction that we see in almost all modern-day American films. Women and girls with unconventional looks are often referred to by their family members as “the most beautiful in the world.” Well, we can get very subjective when it comes to beauty! What happens at the cliff? Does he jump? Does he shoot himself? Does he shoot anybody else? Does he fall? As part of my anti-spoiler commitment, these ‘curiosity killed the cat’ questions will remain unanswered here.

In my first look at Pakistani-British actor Alyy Khan, my gaze stayed with him and complimented him for a compelling screen presence. Add to that some polished dialogue delivery. There are two other actors in India with the name Aly Khan/Ali Khan, hence I guess the distinguishing y-y at the end. Unconventionally attractive Suchitra Pillai, as Roopa, oozes confidence. As the girl who leaps to her death, Agneeta Thacker (Bush, Daredevil; portrayed Teenage Girl in the Daredevil episode Bang; TV debut on Celebrity Ghost Stories, recurring role on ABC's Betrayal; Chicago PD-Law & Order crossover episode!) has expressive eyes and a subdued persona. As the chocolaty boy on whom Maya has a crush, Jake T. Austin (Rio, Rio 2, Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn) is good, though uni-dimensional.

Maya’s room-mate is Christa B. Allen (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Teenage, One Wish, Detention of the Dead) has voluptuous looks and a tentative persona, as demanded by the role. Barry Corbin (War Games, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, No Country for Old Men) is Gary, on the Board of the company, who backs Neal, with a conditional faith in his abilities. One of the biggest names in TV production and acting in Pakistan, Samina Peerzada (Mukhra, Bulandi, Shararat; a guest at The Big Picture conference at Goa, 2005; blessed by Satyajit Ray) has been chosen to play the house-keeper. Although she emotes well, she’s just a shade over-confident for the class she represents.

Maya’s sister Monica, a happy soul, is portrayed by Salma Khan (born in Germany; acted in No Regrets; Was Miss India Illinois 2009, Studied acting at Second City Chicago, Studied acting at The T. Schrieber Studio in New York City). Salma goes with the flow. Vinita Belani (Indian American; former techie; Bicycle Bride) is named Mrs. Sinha in the film. She is a guest at the Kumars’ party and suggests Maya hook-up with her son. It’s a fleeting role.

Paul Nordin’s camerawork is uneven, with some good zooms juxtaposed against shaky hand-held shots, where a tripod would have definitely stood better. Editing by Robin Lee is well-structured, the one major flashback requiring no special treatment. Particularly impressive technically are the first 15-20 minutes of the film, by all parameters.

The Valley is not your regular ABCD (America Born Confused Desi) film, about immigration and marriage. It is well-acted, and, by and large, well-directed.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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